The Real Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Ian Gillan

On April 18, Lou Reed, Green Day, Ringo Starr, Joan Jett and others will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, joining everyone from The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who to Kiss, Metallica, ZZ Top and, er, ABBA. But what about all the bands this US institution has overlooked, ignored or wilfully snubbed over the years? The giants and innovators of rock, prog, punk, blues and more who weren’t deemed important enough, cool enough or American enough to warrant entry through those hallowed portals. Nearly 50 years after forming, Deep Purple are the greatest band not to be in the official Hall Of Fame. They are one of a diminishing handful of bands who formed in the late 60s who are still active today, who are not content to rest on their laurels and who still exist in a meaningful and creative way. While many of their peers are content to play the chicken-in-a-basket circuit – their tour posters emblazoned with monochrome mug shots of how they looked back in their bushy-tailed heyday – Purple have matured like a fine, expensive wine (a Sweet Burgundy, as their former guitarist, the late, great Tommy Bolin, might have it). From 1968’s Shades Of Deep Purple to 2013’s NOW What?!, Purple’s passage through time resembles a mountain range of breathtaking highs and turbid lows. On the next several pages, via a series of interviews with every key member past and present, we celebrate Purple’s extraordinary, multi-decade career. We highlight the radically different personalities of the musicians who have impacted on the band, and marvel at how these contradicting characters were able to gel musically. We examine the mysterious – and occasionally devious – workings of this at times most volatile of bands. We analyse the contributions of alleged bit-part players including Nick Simper, Joe Lynn Turner and the aforementioned Bolin. Plus much more besides. This is Deep Purple dissected, deconstructed and laid bare. (Oh, and we only mention Smoke On The Water once.)

Which was the first Deep Purple track you heard, prior to joining the band?

I had the first three albums, but I can’t remember the first track I heard._ This Bird Has Flown_ was possibly the one. I’m not sure. It could have been April, could have been any of them, really. It could have been Hush. I had them all on my old gramophone.

How was it going from your previous band, Episode Six, into the melting pot that was Purple?

It seemed quite a natural transition to me. Joining with Roger at the same time made life easy. We joined not just as a singer and bass player, but also as a songwriting team. We were ready for everything except success. That’s the only thing we hadn’t been trained for.

_Did you feel a sense of rivalry with other bands? _

I don’t think we felt any sense of competition. It was the fans and the press who made big things out of the so-called rivalry between Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. All the bands used to drink together. We never even thought about competitiveness.

What was the one thing that set Purple apart?

The lack of derivation was probably the key. Everyone brought their own musical influences to the table. It was everything from orchestral compositions to Hammond-organ jazz to big-band swing. Blues, rock’n’roll, folk music… everything. Plus, considering how young we were, the technique and the musicianship were absolutely incredible. There was a depth and immediate identity to the sound.

How did Purple function as a band?

There was never really a single leader. Our career was decided by tantrums, mostly.

Let’s talk about the extremes of your career, your highest and lowest points.

Many, many high points, starting with the first gig at the Speakeasy, going through hundreds of things… half-a-million people at a show in France… A multitude of things come to mind. Darkest times? Behaving like an idiot and falling off the rails. My judgement was bad, my attitude was bad and I got a little bit too big for my boots. But I wasn’t the only one.

Were you a completely different person back then?

No, not really. Humans are all quite complex and we’re all subject to influence. Let’s be more succinct and say I was definitely an arsehole for quite a while.

Do you feel possessive about Purple?

Well, as you would about a family, I suppose. I wouldn’t have chosen the word ‘possessive’ about it, but I feel I belong there and I feel I’ve got a sense of purpose there. It’s very fulfilling.

Is the band bigger than anyone who’s been in it?

Oh yes, absolutely. But I think that’s entirely due to the roots that were set down in sixty-eight, sixty-nine. The people who set Purple up in the first place need to take the most credit.

Have the line-up changes worked to Purple’s benefit? Insofar as the band refreshing itself?

You’re probably right. It was a very difficult time when we recruited Joe Satriani for a year, to get us over a tight spot when Ritchie buggered off. It was the sheer grit and determination of the guys in the band to make it work. You come out of it stronger. Plus you’re determined not to let it happen again, so when future crises loom you anticipate them and deal with them better.

_What keeps you going? _

We are primarily a performing band. We were extremely fortunate because we had massive international success at an early stage. So the ripple spread around and we’re constantly in demand for tours. As long as that demand exists, Purple will keep performing.

Does the fact that Deep Purple aren’t in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame even register on your radar?

I’ve spent my entire life fighting against being institutionalised, so I feel this whole thing’s a massive success. I’m being ironic, of course.

The new Deep Purple live album, Long Beach 1971, is out on March 2 via EarMusic.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.